REVIEW: Willow: ‘Coping Mechanism’

It’s hard to believe that this is already Willow’s fifth album. The 21-year-old has hopped between genres (from R&B to folk to alt-rock) with reckless abandon, but never quite felt at home until last year’s Lately I Feel Everything: a promising – if somewhat derivative – record in which Willow takes her first tentative steps into the world of pop-punk.

On Coping Mechanism, Willow’s brand of pop-punk comes into its own – the success of her previous effort buoying a new-found sense of confidence that pervades the record from start to finish. Her noticeably matured voice soars above pummelling guitars and drums that fire off like cannon blasts for an exhilarating 29-minute auditory thrill-ride.

There’s still good variety across the album’s 11 tracks, however. There are guitar riffs and vocal performances on tracks such as opener ‘Maybe It’s My Fault’ and ‘Ur a Stranger’ that can be almost overwhelming in their ceaseless, dizzying intensity. Meanwhile the quieter, more contemplative ‘Split’ provides listeners with some much-needed breathing room, as Willow ruminates on a failed relationship over a simple, dreamlike instrumental.

Lyrically, Willow has stepped up her game too. Fuelled by the angst of growing up in an ever-more-uncertain world, she tackles topics such as trauma and queerness with unflinching conviction. A particular moment of catharsis comes on the closer Batshit’, where she seems to reject her image and find the courage to step out into the world, unvarnished by these perceptions of herself: “Yeah you think I’m cool / Try batshit / Murdering my ego with a hatchet”. Elsewhere, the queer love anthem ‘Hover Like a Goddess shows a more tender side: “I wanna surf your waves to the shore / And find what lies deep inside / I’ll be the moon to your high tide”.

‘Perfectly Not Close To Me’, a collaboration with avant-garde pop artist Yves Tumor, initially came as a welcome surprise on the otherwise feature-barren tracklist, but unfortunately it ranks as one of the album’s weakest moments. At just a minute and 52 seconds long, it feels as if neither artist truly has the space to demonstrate their talent. Yves Tumor’s characteristic experimentation is in scant supply as they deliver unremarkable verses that feel as if they come from an entirely different song to Willow’s wild, screaming choruses.

Nevertheless, such missteps are rare during Coping Mechanism as a whole. Indeed, this is the sound of an artist truly flourishing after over a decade of genre-hopping uncertainty. At the start of Willow’s career, it would have been easy to dismiss her as a classic ‘nepotism baby’, riding the success of her parents to launch a mediocre music career.

As the years go by, though, it’s becoming increasingly clear that she is an electrifying talent in her own right.

Harry Featherston is a final-year English student and LSM’s Arts and Culture Editor. You can find him on Instagram here.

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